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Tasmanian Devil

Today’s Endangered All-Star is the Tasmanian Devil, desperately in need of saving, the largest living marsupial carnivore since the extinction of the “Tassie Tiger,” or thylacine, in 1935. Over the past decade, populations on the island of Tasmania have plummeted by 60% as a virulent and transmissible cancer—passed from animal to animal by biting—has spread. Hope may be on the way: on 1 January 2010, news broke that researchers had completed gene sequencing of the cancer, identifying a unique type of gene marker which may allow scientists to develop a vaccine or other treatments. Pressure on the population has been so severe that a study conducted by Dr. Menna Jones, wildlife management officer with the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, found that female devils are breeding within a year of birth; normally, they breed at the age of two. “The devils are under intense selection for early breeding,” Jones says, “because the disease is 100 per cent fatal. Any devil that’s successful in breeding more than once is putting out more of its genes into the pool of survivors.” Early breeding may be facilitated by the devils’ having greater access to preferred foods—kangaroo and wombat carrion, as well as birds, frogs, and insects—as a result of the population crash. Want to help? Visit Save the Tasmanian Devil and donate to support further research.
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